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061981cabrioletheader

Feature Car: Sunshine Daydream

Whether due to the Cabriolet’s charisma or its owners’ proclivity towards the flamboyant, the car is still a favorite in no small part for its ability to suit the owner’s style. Despite the fact that VW’s budget topless Rabbit has been around for more than 20 years, the Cabby’s still got a fun factor that holds its own against newer convertibles packed with mechanical wizardry, and Mandy Yildiz’s 1981 example is no exception.

“I wanted a ‘chick’ Rabbit, but not wimpy-looking,” she explains. “My goal was to make a cute daily driver that would stand out like a sore thumb on a minimum budget.”

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After Mandy spotted the car for sale on the side of the road, her husband Armen purchased it for her. She gives him most of the credit for the project, although she’s been right by his side. Before adopting the Cabby, they also built a 1975 Super Beetle, a 1955 550 Spyder kit car, and a 1971 Triumph GT6.

“We love doing these projects together,” says Mandy. “He thinks I am nuts sometimes when I say I want to do certain things. What’s most enjoyable is just working with him. We actually learn from each other.”

The household already had a 1973 Super Beetle and a 1976 Porsche 912E competing for cash outlays, so acquisition of the Cabby shuffled priorities a bit. Mandy’s other projects have been so different that none have really influenced the direction of the Cabby, but she’s learned some tricks to keeping budgets under control. The key to a thrifty build, she says, is accepting that changes can’t happen overnight. Tactics include stockpiling bargain purchases, performing all the work themselves, and trading custom pieces from Armen’s jewelry business in exchange for parts.

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“This car wouldn’t have been possible if my husband didn’t sacrifice his savings for the paint job on the Porsche,” explains Mandy. “He used that money to buy me my little baby, and still no paint on the Porsche.”

It can be tricky to score a sound Cabriolet for a warm-weather toy, but it’s worth the effort. Mandy’s first priority was to clean up the neglected shell and get the car road-worthy with a quickie paint job in the garage; fortunately, with the exception of an aftermarket hood scoop, the car was totally stock. Mandy and Armen had accumulated enough wrench time to recognize this as an advantage, but it took several years before the project became full-time. This spring, Mandy’s plans began to take shape.

“Like anyone who buys an old decrepit car, you get all sorts of visions of what will be done to it,” she says. “All I definitely knew I wanted, of all things, was the quad grille. I love that look. And a body kit of some sort.”

The Cabby was originally a pale lemon shade, but to emphasize the “chick car” factor, Mandy chose House of Kolor Viper Yellow, with silver ultra mini flake and six coats of clear. She’s grateful to R&G Body Shop of Windsor for putting up with many “pop-in” visits to keep the paint perfect, ensuring that when the car’s out and about, it’s always the center of attention.

“I always get a giggle because anyone who walks past the car has to do a double take, and then they always have to touch it due to the illusion in the paint,” she says. “I have the most felt-up Cabby in VW history!”

Mandy obtained the desired GTI grille and filled it with halo projector headlights; other lighting on the car includes smoked tails and smoked front bumper indicators. The side markers were shaved and emblems were removed.

The black contrasting elements are the result of what Mandy calls “happy mistakes”; the car is peppered with them, resulting in some of its most distinctive characteristics. When the car went in for paint, the painter ran out of lacquer and, as a result, the BBS body kit emerged a different shade of yellow.

“We had the brilliant idea to do something different and paint the kit textured black—the complete opposite of the car—and see what happened,” recalls Mandy. “One night, around 11, we started this process ourselves and were pleased with the outcome.”

Fitted to the car, the BBS kit offsets some of the yellow glow and offers an aggressive, OEM+ look. Rounding out the effect are the black Euro bumpers, matching textured black grille spoiler, and black 15” wheels with polished lips.

“They’re not Omni GLH wheels, although everyone thinks that,” Mandy says. “We actually don’t know what kind they are. When I bought the car I received a lot of extra parts and items with it. In this pile of goodies was a set of pepper pot rims, ugly, foamy, and frothy-looking with oxidization. We just put them with the other items in the basement and forgot about them.”

Although Mandy had planned to run a set of Porsche 7-slots she’d purchased, she was distraught when she found out how much the requisite adapters would cost. Armen suggested resurrecting the castaways with a thorough cleaning, fresh paint, and some good old-fashioned polish. Mounted over upgraded 1987-spec front brakes and wrapped in Bridgestone Potenza rubber, Mandy was thrilled with the look.

The interior carries over the black and yellow theme. The seats are black leather, and Mandy’s installed GTI door cards with yellow stripes, custom leather shift and e-brake boots with yellow stitching, and a polished Golf shift knob. She’s also added a Pioneer head unit and front and rear Blaupunkt speakers.

The engine, transmission, and suspension are currently stock; since the car runs properly, albeit slowly, there are no immediate plans for a powerplant swap or upgrade. Someday, though, Mandy hopes for a full ground-up restoration accompanied by a 1.8T conversion and a 6-speed transmission.

“It isn’t fast enough,” she says. “It’s hard to keep up with other club members on cruises. They forget that my car is 26 years old and delicate.”

Although a major drawback to living in a northern climate is a fairly short topless season, Mandy drives a 1997 Jetta Trek in winter and can put the Cabby in storage. She looks forward to tackling her winter to-do list, which includes installing a Magnaflow muffler and an interior refresh with new stereo equipment and leather Recaros. By spring, she hopes to have saved enough money to buy adapters for her Porsche 7-slot wheels, but if not, she’ll be happy just to drive.

“When someone compliments or recognizes my car, I feel like a new mother and really proud,” she says. “I often participate in car shows for fun and to be in a fun atmosphere with friends, but not to win… although I did get first in my category this past June at the June Jitterbug in Niagara Falls.”

Mandy’s attitude towards balancing her hobby and her family are refreshing—she sees her car as a unique way to spend time with her daughter Bailey (“She has to deal with the roof always down, no matter the weather”) and, of course, Armen.

“I met him by selling him a Volkswagen and we both love to work on cars, so we are a perfect car couple in all areas,” she says.

And after Mandy finishes up her next round of improvements, perhaps Armen’s Porsche might get painted at last.



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